Professors negotiate adjunct contract; bargaining group fights for healthcare

by Beacon Staff • September 16, 2009

After negotiations, an Emerson College bargaining group and members of the Affiliated Faculty of Emerson College signed a five-year contract on Sept 3 agreeing on terms of employment for adjunct professors.

"The negotiations were very positive," said Vice President of Communications and Marketing Andrew Tiedemann. "We reached a mutually positive outcome."

AFEC President David Kociemba agreed that while there were occasionally different views on issues, the bargaining was a good experience for everyone overall.

"Clash is typical in negotiation," he said. "We think it's a good contract that protects gains and provides incremental advances, which are notable achievements for the economic situation."

The college, not AFEC, called for renegotiations of the existing contract after it expired in Spring 2009. The contract could have been renewed as it was from year to year, but late last spring semester, the college informed AFEC that it wanted to reopen the contract and begin negotiations.

"The institution thought it was important to complete a new agreement," said Tiedemann.

The contract was agreed upon by the AFEC, a group that represents 280 adjunct, or part-time, professors, on Aug 13. It was approved by Emerson's Board of Trustees on Aug 26. It is the second five-year agreement between the college and the AFEC.

Emerson was represented by Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Moore as well as outside labor counsel Nicholas DiGiovanni, who works for the law firm Morgan, Brown, and Joy, and Associate General Counsel Betsy Facher Rauch. The AFEC's bargaining group included President David Kociemba, former president David Akiba, Vice President and Grievance Officer Brian McNeil, and attorney Laurie Ruskin.

The changes in the contract ranged from small word changes to larger issues, including professors qualifying for benefits such as health insurance.

The last topic was one that Ruskin, also an adjunct professor teaching within the journalism department, felt AFEC lost out on during negotiations. In the original contract, professors had to teach a certain number of classes to reach the seniority necessary to qualify for benefits.

After that, he or she had to continue to teach four classes during the year to actually receive them. But since the contract defined the year as the academic year, not the calendar year, professors who taught summer courses weren't able to use those classes in order to qualify.

Ruskin said that Emerson's justification in the past had been that summer courses weren't as rigorous as semester courses, a claim that she believes is not always true.

"I, for one, teach one of my media law classes during the summer which is literally identical to the same class taught during the academic year," she said.

But according to her, when AFEC proposed to change the contract so it read "year" rather than "academic year" within the health benefits section, or to give credit to those professors who teach courses in the summer that are identical to those in the school year, the college simply refused to discuss either proposal.

"Given that all other aspects of the negotiations went so amazingly well, this episode seemed oddly out of place," she said. "It stands out as one real sore spot in an otherwise. successful negotiating process."

Tiedemann said disagreements between the college and the AFEC should remain between the two groups.

"These contract discussions were a private negotiation between two parties," he said. "We are happy we could work out our differences with the union," he said.

Many students seem to feel that summer professors aren't getting the benefits they deserve, including sophomore Chris Hyacinthe.

"I feel like everyone should have health care benefits," said the marketing major. "If you can offer it to teachers here, you should."

Freshman Shauntelle Stephens agreed.

"If they're giving their time during the summer, they still have the same responsibilities towards each student," said the marketing major.

Also added to the contract was a two percent pay increase for the adjunct professors based on the cost of living in Boston-a consideration Kociemba said many faculty unions in the nation don't have. Other changes included a requirement for direct deposit of payment, a requirement on the part of the college to send a job description to the AFEC within two weeks of its posting, and the creation of a faculty development fund which will disperse up to $10,000 annually.

Junior Hilary Rosenblum thinks that the college is doing right in giving the professors a pay increase based on living costs.

"If they want their faculty to stay here and stay at Emerson, they should be accommodating," said the communication sciences and disorders major. "Boston's a really expensive place to live."

The terms within the contract are established through June 30, 2014, and no future negotiations between the groups are planned at this time.

Kociemba stressed the positive atmosphere within the negotiations, especially considering the fact that the last bargaining session took 26 months, while this only took three.

"Is the proposed contract perfect? Of course not," he said. "But consider the context in which both sides were negotiating. These are scary times to own downtown real estate and have extensive investment portfolios."